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Promoting and Enabling Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

Steven Cox
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Much has been written and achieved by organisations in the pursuit of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I). Leaders of organisations across the commercial, public and third sectors are now quite rightly expected to ensure that they have proactive policies and programmes in place to encourage diversity and inclusion. Article by Steven Cox, Vice President and Head of Public Sector, Fujitsu UK&I.

Whilst it’s an issue which has been improved in recent years, it’s still something that many organisations are working hard to address. So what’s the role of HR, and in particular HR Directors, in enabling this pursuit?

There is a compelling business case to enabling a fully diverse workforce. An organisation which is diverse and inclusive will be better able to attract and, crucially, retain talent. For new recruits especially it has become a “has to have”, not a “nice to have”. Moreover, those who do not feel included at work are far less likely to feel committed to their employer than those who do feel included.

For this very reason overt and visible programmes, as well as role models, are essential. They signal to a wider group of people what is considered to be acceptable, and indeed unacceptable.

For HR Directors, presenting a compelling business case in the context of your organisation and then achieving corporate buy-in is crucial. While a potentially daunting project, you’re not alone. Many other companies will be ahead of you – some quite a way ahead, others only just. All of whom you can learn from. There are also organisations such as Stonewall and OUTstanding who can help.

Any organisation will be better able to understand, relate to and engage their customers, clients or citizens the more diverse they are.  For business-to-business organisations being able to put forward client-facing teams who are reflective of your customers is essential – it gets noticed.

To identify the role of HR in driving diversity and inclusion one must firstly define what they mean.  Diversity is about support and difference – for both visible characteristics (such as age, gender, ethnicity and some disabilities) as well as invisible ones (such as values, beliefs and religion, sexual orientation, and mental health).

Inclusion goes to the heart of how people are treated. It is about how we embrace differences in a way that works for individuals as well as the organisation. Inclusion puts diversity into action by creating an environment of involvement, respect and connection — where the richness of ideas, backgrounds, and perspectives are combined to create outstanding business value.

It’s also worth noting that inclusiveness isn’t about treating everyone equally. In fact it’s arguably the opposite – it’s about treating everyone as individuals and ensuring that the organisation makes adjustments and allowances for them. For HR Directors implementing a D&I strategy it is vital that all employees in the company understand what’s meant by diversity and inclusion and why it’s relevant to them. Once you collectively understand this, the whole company has a foundation on which to build.

Anyone in a leadership position has a responsibility to ensure that a working culture of support and engagement is in place.  Of course it’s not just those who are directly affected at work – it extends well beyond that. Examples include the gay man who just doesn’t feel comfortable talking about his husband at work when colleagues discuss what they did with their families at the weekend. And what about the mum who needs to work specific hours, or be available to return home at short notice, due to her disabled son who needs care? Or the person with mental health issues who isn’t sure they will be properly understood and supported if they were to raise these issues with their manager?

The role of HR Directors is to empower managers and leaders with the understanding of what it means to lead a diverse workforce. Creating a company-wide, overtly positive inclusive culture is key. A culture of silent acceptance isn’t good enough: your people have to know that they will be supported from the get-go. This can include networking groups, fully inclusive healthcare plans, inclusive imagery and text in internal policies and communications as well as external ones, and so on. Finally, sharing professional experience and best practice with HR Directors in external organisations is invaluable to drive change.

At Fujitsu we have put inclusion at the heart of our company and we’ve achieved a huge amount in the last two years. This has included the Department for Work and Pensions recognising our Disability Passport as an example of best practice. This allows our people with disabilities to centrally register the adjustments they require so that as and when they move between assignments within the business they don’t have to re-explain their needs to their new managers. We also recently hosted an event with customers and suppliers as well as staff invited to discuss the hypothesis that “Inclusion Motivates”, with a particular focus on LGBT, with resoundingly positive feedback.

It strikes me that we often talk about what organisations should do to enable their people to work at home – surely we should be ensuring that everyone can also be “at home at work”? In the long term I hope we will not need overt diversity and inclusion interventions, as organisations will have cultures of full openness and support. Of course we may choose to retain networking groups and events as they allow like-minded people to convene and network, but once it is truly championed it will become normal. Once it is normal it becomes part of the organisation’s culture.

So, over to you! Do you agree with this? What more could and should HR be doing? How do you as senior leaders in HR enable such programmes in your organisations? I’d be interested in your feedback and thoughts.

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